News Tribune in a Vice

Media doesn’t typically cover media anymore, which is why this blog may well be the only news you hear about all the changes that are likely coming to the News Tribune over the course of the next year. vice

Vice President of News for the Sacramento-based McClatchy Company Anders Gyllenhall recently laid out a robust new coverage and design plan for the chain’s 29 daily news papers. You can see it at – which is an online watering hole for journalists – primarily of the print persuasion.

The new plan is based on a ton of audience research, and it will first be rolled-out in the company’s close-to-home papers in Sacramento, Modesto, Fresno and Merced. But Gyllenhall says the rest of the pack, including presumably the News Tribune, will be engaged within a year.

What the Gyllenhall article doesn’t mention however is the continued financial challenges faced by McClatchy (MNI), which came into pretty sharp relief during the company’s last earnings call. To make a long story short, the company’s challenge is to continue to ramp down expenses while growing digital revenues before more cuts (or asset sales ala, have to be made (primarily in service to debt) – which in the comments, the CEO said was a definite possibility.

Let’s hope not. More cuts to McClatchy would come as a detriment to all of us who, for instance, appreciate the News Tribune’s efforts in the South Sound. McClatchy is one of this country’s great newspaper chains and has always been a bellwether for quality. If you are somebody who gets some kind of a kick out of the erosion of the MSM – and in particular good newspapers – I’m calling you a dope and pray you take your leave presently.

Now for those still here, in my mind – the question continues to be whether the paper can find its way financially before (more) staff cuts are made, or the printed version of the paper gets a few days trimmed out of its run… which frankly may be the least bad option.

The problem is that their are so many countervailing trends emerging in the research, including that conducted by McClatchy.

The first problem is that newspapers (or any media for that matter) may not even have anything to really sell on their digital platforms. Clicks and unique pageviews are the currency of the web, but they’re increasingly being viewed as almost meaningless. That means it’s hard for any sales organization to go out and sell something where ROI-based metrics are apparently still elusive. That means that just as the newspaper is scrambling to move to digital and sell it as fast and profitably as possible while print revenues slowly sink beneath them, the underlying, provable metrics that we thought were developing to support the digital pitch – may be smoke.

The other simultaneous “problem” is that an increased emphasis on quality images – which a recent NPPA study showed were vital to story sampling and engagement – and video, which McClatchy says it will try (again times two in the case of the News Tribune) – is expensive. Asking an ink-stained wretch to pan a news conference with his or her iPhone (you know who you are) isn’t going to cut it, and won’t likely be acceptable under corporate’s new mandate either.

This means that while the scramble toward digital is seen as a safe (ish) harbor as the tide of print revenues goes out, the expenses associated with producing the good stuff are going to be high.

We’ve all seen the New York Time’s Snow Fall treatment. It was seen as groundbreaking. But let’s face it: writing a wonderful piece, and then spending more to package multi-media stories that flow correctly on every platform, that include strong visual storytelling, and add compelling supplementary info-graphics and interactive maps and charts – which is all part of the McClatchy mandate – cuts directly against the company’s compelling need to do it cheap.

It would be very cool for Sacramento to send a million dollars up to the News Tribune to re-fire their multi-media efforts, but I doubt that’s going to be part of the plan.

Sadly, this is the case for all media – realizing that the audience and readership research is driving us toward producing more expensive top-notch quality content (as opposed to click bait lists and surveys about what flavor you would be if made of ice cream) while simultaneously having to watch the revenues required to produce it slowly sink southward.

It’s  helluva’ vice in which to be trapped.